Saunders, Real Estate, Hamptons

Hamptons Life

Oct 14, 2019 1:43 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Planting Trees Requires Vision

Oct 14, 2019 2:31 PM

As deciduous trees — ones that lose their leaves each fall — begin to drop their leaves, we get one of the indisputable signs that these trees are beginning to enter their dormant period of the year. This is also a good indicator that it’s the opportune time to be transplanting these types of trees as well as planting new ones.

The reality is that the trees aren’t really shutting down but, more correctly, slowing down. As the leaves drop, the circulation systems that draw water through the roots and up through the trunks, limbs and branches then eventually release that waterbeing released by the leaves are nearly over for the year. This makes it much safer to move most of the deciduous trees in our landscapes. On the other side though, tree roots love to grow in the cooling soils of the fall, and they continue to expand well into the winter months. For planting and transplanting, this is a very good thing.

But knowing that this is the right time of the year for tree planting is only a small part of the process that you should consider when moving or planting a new tree. The smallest tree will grow larger. Larger trees will most likely still grow larger but at a slower pace. And just this facet of tree growth is but one consideration in choosing the right tree. There are many more. It’s a very helpful exercise to consider these many factors before you buy a tree and some long-term planning can pay off no matter the size of your property or plans.

First, is it a tree you’ve seen and fallen in love with and now you need a place for it, or do you have a place that’s in need of a tree? Many trees go on sale at local nurseries this month as nurseries would much rather sell a tree from their yard than have to overwinter it or even replant it. It’s not uncommon for discounts of 20 percent to as much as 50 percent, and in the bargain they may even throw in planting or an extra year of guarantee.

And while you may moan and groan at the cost of trees at some of the major nurseries like Marders or Whitmores, these are the places where trees have been grown for years and the vendors stand by their high-quality plants. Yes, you pay a premium out here, but if they’re on sale and locally grown, there are deals to be had.

Size is not everything. Well it is if you choose the wrong size tree for a particular location, but many homeowners think they have to have the biggest tree they can afford and that’s not always the wisest choice. There are inherent risks in planting larger and older trees while younger and smaller trees will grow faster and may even fill a given space faster than a larger and older tree.

I’ve gone through this exercise twice in the past two years with a very large copper beech and a good-sized weeping cherry. The beech was about 25 feet tall and maybe as many years old. The cherry was just as tall but a few years younger. The property owner insisted on the larger trees for their instant effect, but I just couldn’t get the concept across that these larger trees would grow much more slowly than smaller counterparts and that smaller trees would in fact grow faster and taller than the larger trees over a given period of years. It’s pretty well accepted in arboriculture that the larger the tree that’s moved or transplanted, the longer the recovery period from the move. On the other hand, a smaller tree, if healthy and well dug, may only take only a year or two to show dramatic signs of growth in terms of feet while its larger counterpart may only grow only inches for five to 10 years.

But let’s take a step back, and I’ll ask a few questions that may help before you shell out your life savings. First, we are talking about trees that lose their leaves. Like oaks and maples. When the leaves fall, where will they go? Will you need to rake them up? Will the leaves go in gutters because you planted the tree too close to the house? Will they end up in the swimming pool or on the tennis court? Maybe you have a staff of gardeners and none of these are issues for you. Maybe it’s just you, your spouse and a couple of kids … who won’t rake those leaves after they’re 12 or 13.

And this oak or maple may be only 10 to 15 feet tall when it’s planted, but remember it will grow and grow and grow. As it does it will provide more and more shade. That shade can be a blessing or a curse. It’s a blessing if it shades your house or patio and keeps your house cooler in the summer. It’s a curse if the roots suck up every drop of water not allowing you to grow anything nearby other than moss.

And this oak or maple, the 15-foot one, looked great near the garage when you planned or planted it, but 20 years from now as it towers over the garage and hurricane Zenon is heading up the coast, how many of the limbs will be potential bombs or missiles? And, if you mistakenly plant that weeping willow that you’ve seen in so many romantic summer scenes, what will the roots of that willow do to your sewer or septic lines or even your well? Ah, you forgot to think about that, did you?

Then there are the bugs and diseases. Some bugs and diseases are endemic to particular trees while others seem nearly resistant. Even within a family like the maples, you can find varieties that do better than others. And, by all means, please stay away from the Norway maple. It’s a very poor landscape tree (and a nonnative) but some places still sell them and regret is only years away.

Do you want fall color from your new tree? Again, consider the maples for a moment. There are maples that turn red in the fall while others turn orange and even pink while some will start in one hue then change to another. If you want a riot of color then maybe it’s the Japanese maples you need to consider. You can find specimens that grow slowly, quickly, tall or broad. Look online. Look in the nurseries. Go to the library and look through the tree books for ideas.

Do you want fruits? Nuts? Long and spectacular seed pods? Exotic flowers like those on the mimosa tree (not a good choice though). One great shade tree is the ginkgo, but did you know that the fruit of the female ginkgo stinks? Did you know that a mature acorn falling from an oak tree at a precise trajectory can shatter a car windshield? Ah, things we should have known. Is the tree of your dreams a softwood or a hardwood? Will it matter? If you’re near the bays or ocean, is the tree salt tolerant? Can it be shaped and clipped to form like a hornbeam can?

And consider the view. An 8-foot tree may not obstruct your view this year but use your imagination when choosing a planting site and think ahead five, 15, even 25 years ahead. You may think you won’t be here then, but someone will. What a shame if they have to cut down your tree even if you’re not here. Then again, the whole purpose of your new tree may very well be to block the view of the neighbor’s sculpture, barn or dump.

Just a few things to consider. Just a few. Give it some thought. Don’t be discouraged though. Investigate, look around, make wise decisions. Plant lots of trees. Mother Earth needs more. The planting season runs into mid-November. Keep growing.

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